Debating Queer History in Bros and at the Library of Congress
Jules Gill-Peterson: Hello and welcome to our bird angels. Gill-Peterson. And any resemblance to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark this month is purely coincidental. Or so my lawyers have told me.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And I’m Cristina Cauterucci, a senior writer at Slate. And I don’t know if y’all knew this. Listeners Jewels. I’m sure you didn’t know this because it doesn’t get as much fanfare as pride, but October is LGBT History Month. Can you believe we get two months out of the year just for us? It’s truly an embarrassment of months. We’re so lucky and they’re perfectly aligned with the weather. June is when you want to strip down to your undies for pride, and in October you just want to bundle up in a quaint little library with a history book. So in that spirit, we have a cozy autumnal episode for you this month that will pair exquisitely with your cable knits, your fire pits, your negroni smuggling photos with prosecco in them.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: So first of all, Brian is still out allegedly writing his book. But we’re going to be barging into his study to drag him back on the show for a discussion of Barros, the gay rom com, written by and starring Billy Eichner, which is in theaters now. Then we have a special guest from the Library of Congress. Meg Metcalf There are librarian and LGBTQ+ studies collections specialist at the Library of Congress, and they’ll talk us through the process of recording and remembering LGBTQ history. They’re also going to introduce us to some queer and trans gems that the library has in its collection.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: You know, it’s not just crystal flutes and all, but before all that, I want to shout out this submission that we got to our thoughts and queries. Inbox listener Bonnie Raymond wrote in to set me straight, as it were, about something that I said in our segment about a League of Their Own. So just to recap, I was sort of rolling my eyes at the modern day lingo and dialogue in the series, including the word problematic.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Well, Bonnie helpfully informed me that problematic, despite being the call out verbiage of choice on Tumblr and tik-tok in our century is actually a very old word. It was first recorded in the 1600s with roots from the Latin problematics and the Greek problematic hosts. So, you know, faves have been problematic since at least the early 17th century. Thank you, Bonnie. That’s new info to me.
Jules Gill-Peterson: That’s incredible. I didn’t realize that either. And I’m sort of, you know, disturbed as a millennial, I think is third generation responsible for this word. But thank you, Bonnie, and thank you for giving Christina a chance to speak both gay language, Latin and lesbian language Greek.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Just to remind our listeners, you can and should reach out to us anytime with your thoughts, your advice, questions, your call out, your Collins, your call me. Maybe it’s at outward podcast at Slate.com.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: All right. Well, now that I’ve corrected myself for the record, Joel’s pride or provocation, how are you feeling this month?
Jules Gill-Peterson: So I’m going to try and have it both ways. Have my cake and eat it, too, if you will, because wasn’t it Bisexual Awareness Week recently? Anyways, I feel like I’m like I’m either and I’m not sure I’m either proudly provoked or maybe I’m provocatively proud, or maybe I am neither that or the other.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But some secret third thing about Jon Stewart, you know, who has this new show out on Apple TV called The Problem. And so the way I’m feeling is just about him setting the bar for like literal basic journalism about trans people. This new show, the first episode, you know, which I take it sort of each episode kind of deals with a sort of big issue of the day.
Jules Gill-Peterson: In the first episode was called The War Over Gender premiered on October 7th. And it’s really just, you know, Stewart, who has his own sort of particular history, you know, with transphobic comedy or whatever on The Daily Show and elsewhere sitting down and actually just like doing something that as we sort of realize when watching it and no one does, which is like fact check people ask actual experts, not take people who do their research on, you know, for H&M or, you know, on Mumsnet as seriously as people, as PhDs or people who work for medical associations and actually interview trans people, you know, shout out to my all time fave Chase Strangio who’s on. Episode, also several parents of trans youth.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And actually, just like you know, Jon Stewart is like, Hi, I’m just going to be like a basic human being and do like literally the basics of journalism. It’s totally worth watching. It cuts through a lot of BS that we get, you know, sort of handed to us every day when it comes to reporting on trans folks. But like, oh, I also just like fell all sorts of ways about being like, wow, the bar is set on the floor and like, you know, it’s nice to see one person with a platform, you know, be responsible and judicious.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But it also kind of made me sad that, you know, this is like the first time where seed survived, just like basic due diligence and not be a total jerk. So thank you. Jon Stewart Like, I’m very grateful. I don’t know that I feel proud and and so I’m still, still, still trying to figure that out. But, but I do recommend people maybe give that episode a watch just to see what they think. And maybe you can help me. Y’all can help me find my feelings about it.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Hmm. I want to recommend a piece that Slate ran by Evan Urquhart on this exact segment called Why Jon Stewart’s Humiliation of an Anti-Trans official is So important. And I really appreciated his analysis because he was basically saying something similar to you, which is like, yes, I know this is the bare minimum. And I know that, like possibly Jon Stewart is preaching to the choir.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: But actually there are a lot of people out there who consider themselves like good liberals or whatever, who are still very easily taken in by this sort of like just asking questions, articles in The New York Times or whatever that give like equal time to bad faith, not actually researchers and like legitimate people with expertise who like serve trans populations or who are trans. And the Jon Stewart episode, I hope and Evan writes like may give permission for some of those people to actually be like, you know what? I can be on the right side of history on this issue, or I don’t have to sort of equivocate or shy away from this issue because it seems complicated to me. It actually can be pretty simple.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, No, I think I think Evan is totally right about that. Highly, highly recommend. Maybe things will start to change a little bit for the better. Well, we’ll find out.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. So it’s nice to hear that note of reserved optimism and to have occasion to have that sort of reserved feeling of optimism.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Even I occasionally feel that.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Hey, Christina, how are you feeling this month?
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: So I was going to be provoked by people who call Halloween gay Christmas because I actually think it’s straight pride, which, you know, Dan Savage has famously argued that this is straight people’s moments to parade their sexuality and whatever. But then I found something else to be provoked about. So as you can see, I snuck in like an extra provocation there. I promise I’ll be proud one of these times.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: But I just read a piece yesterday about this new study that came out from the HRC and Bowling Green State University. They did a study of data from the U.S. Census and Gallup surveys and found that, you know, extrapolating our population numbers and LGBTQ populations into the future in 2030, about one in seven Americans who are eligible to vote will be LGBTQ because we know, like younger generations, way more of them are trans and queer and they’re going to turn 18 someday. And if you extrapolate that even further, in 2040, about one in five voting eligible people will be LGBTQ. So that’s great. The more the merrier. You know, maybe in 2040, even like one in five films will be like Bruce, we can only hope.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: But the analysis tacked on to this study is where it gets a little shifty, in my opinion. So the researchers write The surge in LGBTQ plus voters is expected to transform the American electoral landscape, most critically tipping the scales in red states that are on the cusp of no longer being reliably red, helping to push those states into firmly purple territory. So they single out Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, as places where there’s going to be a much larger proportion of LGBTQ voters in coming decades. And this is expected to change political outcomes in favor of Democrats.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: To me, these are extremely spurious claims that rely completely on an assumption that LGBTQ people will remain like a unified bloc of Democratic voters, even as literally everything else in the world changes and our numbers increase. And like the politicians who make up those parties change. This has echoes of the claims that people have made about voters of color that analysts have always said, like as the U.S. becomes less white, Republicans will have a hard time winning. And like, you know, Republicans better start reaching out to voters of color because, you know, they’re like always going to vote Democrat otherwise. And I think for Democrats, that’s been an excuse to take voters of color for granted to not do outreach or shape party platforms around, you know, the needs of those voters. It’s extremely patronizing as well, and ignores the fact that all sorts of people vote against their own self-interest even all the time.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And why would LGBTQ people be any different? It feels like this study or this analysis around this study. If I had to guess the intent behind it, it would be to sort of caution Republicans away from these really extreme anti-trans and homophobic laws. That’s like a very essential part of the platforms of all of these high profile Republicans running around the country. But what I actually see is Democrats reading this and sort of sitting back on their laurels and thinking like, well, like that’s good for us and we don’t actually have to do anything now, it makes me sad. It’s not based in like an accurate reading of history or an accurate assessment of how people behave and vote. And I’m honestly really disappointed that the HRC and Bowling Green State University chose to oppose this pretty interesting study with this analysis that is not based in fact.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, it has a very like it gets better vibes, right? It was like 2020. So you’re.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Telling me like.
Jules Gill-Peterson: If I live to retirement age, I might have civil rights? Like, Oh, that’s so reassuring. I’m so excited for you.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: You just have to wait for there to be more of us.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, it’s just such a weird idea that, like, minorities will redeem the United States as if, like, the whole point is that, like, there’s a problem in US democracy since the very beginning. And I don’t know. I mean, I really.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, I really appreciate that reaction. I mean, I’m down in Atlanta right now and Atlanta has a very late pride. It was last weekend. And, you know, just sort of milling about in the city. And it was, you know, heard chatter about how. Yeah, both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two Democratic senators from Georgia, marched in the Pride parade. And apparently that’s the first time a sitting senator from Georgia has marched in the Pride parade, which was like, you know, again, one of those moments where I was like, that’s cool. Like, these guys seem interesting or whatever, but it’s like, here are all these, you know, queer people and, you know, it’s Atlanta. So it’s like a huge, you know, representation of the black, queer and trans community in particular.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And it’s like, well, who knows what that means for for Warnock’s reelection campaign? None of this is guaranteed. And, you know, the right to vote is very deeply restricted in Georgia. And, you know, it’s just like, I don’t know, not so clear to me. It’s not like these gays, they just want to go to the party and they don’t want to get out and vote. It’s actually just like really complicated and not clear that everyone who’s at pride, everyone at the parade is going to be voting the same way. And that’s like like you said, kind of not new. It’s a problem since like gay people started organizing or LGBT people started organizing as a voting bloc in the seventies. So, you know, we’ll keep an eye on it, though. Sounds like we have time. Yeah. Series Set my clock to remind me. 2014. Are you safe?
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. I also just want to, like, shout out gerrymandering in the Electoral College for reasons why shifts in voting population. And like for all we know, blue states could become red because white people change their minds. I don’t know.
Jules Gill-Peterson: The Midwest is.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Conflict. Yeah, totally.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And we’ll just say gerrymander, straight S-word I’ve ever heard in my life.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Or a possible drag name.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Okay. Our first topic this month we’ve been waiting to talk about for, I don’t know, four weeks whenever we decided we were going to talk about it. I’ve been so excited. It’s the movie Burrows. It’s a romantic comedy starring and co-written by Billy Eichner, who the press materials are calling the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: You know, we always have a nice little laugh at these, like extremely qualified first, but, you know, good for Billy Eichner. So cool, right? I just want to focus on that word for a second that he co-wrote this movie because just a disclaimer, Burrows was directed and other co-written by a straight man, Nicholas Stoller, who’s known for his bro comedy. So, you know, not a totally safe space here, but still a milestone. So to help us unpack this artwork that holds space for so much discourse about the life of the urban gay man, we are joined by an actual gay man and soon to be acclaimed author got our very own Brian Lowder. Brian, welcome to our.
Brian Lauter: Oh, my gosh, it’s so wonderful to be on this side of the interview, the virtual interview table. It’s good to be back.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: It’s so great to have you back. We’ve missed you. So, listeners, if you haven’t seen Bro’s and you want to and you don’t want any spoilers, here’s your chance to skip ahead to our next segment and come back to this one later. So, you know, if this is your last chance and have fun out there. All right. You’re still here. Okay. Just to recap the plot before we dissect it, Bro’s follows the podcast host and semi-famous Gay about Town Bobby, played by Billy Eichner. He is on the board of an LGBTQ history museum that’s set to open soon. He meets up for hookups with people. He meets on the apps, but he generally doesn’t go on dates or want a relationship because he thinks a lot of gay men are just dumb hunks of meat until he encounters a very hot hunk of meat. Aaron, played by Luke Macfarlane, who you might remember from the Christmas movie that we analyzed last year. Jingle what was it single all the way. Which angles again and all the jingle?
Jules Gill-Peterson: All That’s what you called it.
Speaker 4: Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Whatever. Anyway, I was like, Where is this guy from? Yeah. Jingle all the gay.
Brian Lauter: And many other Hallmark romantic movies, by the way. Yeah. Oh, yeah. He’s like a he’s a holiday.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Gift for him.
Brian Lauter: No.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: He played straight in, so.
Brian Lauter: Yeah, I believe so.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Good for him. Okay. Allegedly. So this guy Aaron, he’s. He’s fun to talk to, even though he’s like, a big hunk of meat. I can’t think of it. We just describe a muscular gay man. I don’t know. He also doesn’t really date people and in fact, doesn’t even like to have one on one sex because it’s too intimate. So the film is about what happens when a nerdy, skinny podcast guy dates a beefy gay bro. It’s about this interesting moment of time we’re in of persecution and also progress, where Cisco life is still marginal in some ways, but also, as one character says, so passé. And it’s also about the depiction of LGBTQ history in this museum that they’re developing. Let’s listen to a clip from a conference session where the board is discussing exactly what they should put in that museum.
Speaker 4: We cannot afford to push our opening again. People will think we’re in trouble. Maybe this whole place could fall apart. We need new ideas for what goes in the final wing, and we need them now. Cherry girl, you know the blue well hanging in the Museum of Natural History. Yes, What about that? But instead of the blue. Well, it’s a lesbian. Oh, no. Yeah. Okay, Well, yeah, we can’t do that.
Jules Gill-Peterson: What if the final exhibit was a recreation of a queer wedding?
Speaker 4: I like that. That. I don’t know. Tomorrow. That is so sweet. I love that. And people can come and register for wedding gifts here. Oh, my God. No, That is old fashioned heteronormative nonsense. We need to get people to rethink history or a queer prism, not comfort them with another gay wedding. All right. It’s a museum. It’s not Schitt’s Creek. Oh, I love that. Oh, I love Schitt’s Creek. That show has layers.
Brian Lauter: Everyone loves Schitt’s Creek. Great. Okay.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Bryan, since you’re our guest here and sort of like the demographic analog to this movie, I’m going to give you the first stab at this film. What did you think and did it live up for you to Billy Eichner’s like incessant hype about this movie?
Brian Lauter: Oh my God, what a what a question. So, well, I’ll start by saying two things. I have not been a fan of Eichner’s comedy going back a long way, so I think that’s worth like putting on the table first. But when this movie started being advertised back in like 2015, it feels like, but actually I think it made the. First trailer came out. I think we passed it around actually among ourselves because it seemed sort of exciting. It seemed like it was going to be about how, you know, gay love is very different from straight love and we don’t want to assimilate. And that was that was very much like the turn of the trailer. So I was excited about this, actually.
Brian Lauter: Despite not loving how screamy Eichner can be in his comedy, this movie seemed promising at the very least. Going into it, I found it to be a really strange thing. It is. It is very funny. In part, I thought. I think it’s like largely well written. I think it’s like well-constructed and enjoyable for the most part, but it has all of these other weird preoccupations that I don’t think we all expected, especially the the actual, you know, they’re all the marketing has been calling it historic, as you mentioned. And we can talk about whether that’s true or not. But the movie itself is obsessed with queer history in a way that I did not expect that I found very surprising. And it has a lot of these kind of almost internecine debates like sort of loaded into it about the way we think about our history and our ancestors and what would our ancestors have wanted.
Brian Lauter: Is it a rom com? I think is kind of the question that that I started with.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Brian, you wrote a really great piece for Slate called Billy Eichner’s Curious Claims about Bro’s, that it was basically saying, should queer people want to be admitted into the canon of rom com or do the conventions? Are the conventions of rom coms too stifling for like a truly queer and historically queer storyline? Can you explain sort of your argument there and what you think? Is it exciting to have a queer rom com and do queer storylines fit naturally and historically into that frame?
Brian Lauter: So my experience of watching this movie over the course of its 2 hours was that it felt sort of overstuffed and strangely kind of claustrophobic and like it needed more editing. And I thought about that. There were.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: So many things, so.
Speaker 4: Much, and.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Then we just move.
Brian Lauter: On. Yeah, so many jokes, so, so many little sort of gay life vignettes, things like that, many of which are funny, as I say, but there’s a lot of it. And Afterword, I was thinking about why did I feel this way? Why did it feel so crowded to me? And I and I realized that what I think happened is they took this form the romantic comedy, and it is a very traditional romantic comedy, we should say. The bits of the movie are like the most standard bits that you can think of, right? You’ve got the sort of meet cute, the the two difficult people struggling to like understand each other, finally getting a little bit serious, getting a little bit vulnerable, and then some sort of I guess third act problem happens to make them question that. And then in the end, they get back together like the standard, the standard beads.
Brian Lauter: So you’ve got that really strong structure in place and I think a very straight structure because of the concerns of each of those bits, are, I think, arguably sort of traditionally straight concerns. And you’re talking about ultimately like a marriage plot, right? They don’t get married at the end. But that that is kind of what we’re leading to. And the movie and Eichner and the co-writers and whatnot. Alright, it pains, I think, to gay that up as much as possible and sort of almost like distract from the straightness of the structure and you end up with a lot of tension. I don’t know if you all felt that way about it, but it was, it was sort of this very for all of its wanting to be like a lovely romantic comedy with perhaps a little bit of more like a servic wit going on It It has. It’s very tense and strange. I don’t know if that resonates.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah. No, I mean, I think tense describes a lot of a lot of stuff these days that, you know, a lot of projects that obviously had, you know, a particular uphill battle to getting produced or to getting adequate resources in are sort of have to struggle in the really bizarre way where sort of sad representation by, you know, the corporate model or the studio system or the streaming, you know, conglomerates as if it’s virtuous to consume media, as if there’s something political about that. And it’s like you could certainly satirize that.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But I think it’s actually very hard. Right? And I think like, yeah, you know, in my mind, like this film isn’t really exceptional. Like, I feel like there’s a lot of stuff I watch where it just I just feel stressed to the whole time because, yeah, you know, it’s almost a sense of like artificial pressure. Like why are the stakes are so high? Because like, it’s a movie, you know, like it’s not actually going to like, do it doesn’t have to do anything. Almost like that’s like on layered on top of the sort of problem of trying to do a gay rom com or it’s like, well, yeah, like gay people are queer. People have like long loved and obsessively consumed rom coms, But that’s like, precisely because. That’s in our reading of it. It’s how you receive it as an audience member and like how you modify it for your own pleasure in watching.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And so it’s like, well, the whole point for me is like, I wouldn’t actually want to be in Mystic Pizza. I just want to watch Mystic Pizza and think about, you know what I mean? Like, it’s like, right? It’s like, I don’t actually want to make a movie where I’m playing Julia Roberts because that’s like, actually would spoil the pleasure. And so it puts you in a really difficult position to then pull that off and then, you know, but it’s like, you know, I just like thinking about the cast is really impressive, right? I mean, it’s like we’ve got, you know, Monica, Raymond Gilmore, Diaz, Bowen, Yang, Tess Madison, Guy Brown. I’m like, these are all people who are, you know, who who haven’t been given nearly as much as they deserve in the industry. And, you know, or in some cases until recently. And it’s like it’s a pleasure to see them all in an ensemble cast, you know, or but like but but, but because of I think this larger architecture, it’s like when when any of them sort of have a moment, right? Like it’s, it’s solid, like really good, really fun.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Mm hmm. But the movie as a whole, I think, just reflects this kind of larger media environment that’s like not giving people what they actually need to, like, do their craft and like, that sucks. But like, I don’t know, I just. I’ve been feeling really weird about how stuck we all are in these kinds of cycles of, like, should we watch this? Do we have to watch this? Does it matter? Like. Like.
Brian Lauter: Is it a political act for us?
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like, clearly not. But like, who? Cool. You know, I want people to get paychecks. I want people to have jobs. So, like, is it even about that? You know, I just, like, feel like. I feel like in some ways, I’m like. I feel like we’ve all lost the plot and, like, that’s not really on Billy Eichner to fix, right? I mean, I don’t know how I would have tried to pull this off because I’m just like, I don’t get it. You know, something’s like in a post they slash them world where it’s like, tonally it don’t just make any gay movie. You want it make you really bad.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: So yeah, I feel like pros, like the simplest thing to say about it, is that it’s a cautionary tale about hyping these sort of milestones of representation because there’s so much pressure on it when we’re like, Wow, it’s the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own.
Brian Lauter: Major studio film. And I think like and like wide theatrical release was appended to that, to it’s like even.
Speaker 4: With a wide.
Brian Lauter: Theatrical release. Yeah, it’s even longer. Yeah.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And Billy Eichner has tweeted like, Wow, it sucks that Burrows didn’t have a huge blockbuster opening weekend because like, all these straight people are too homophobic to go see it. That was I’m paraphrasing, but that was like the gist of it. Yeah.
Brian Lauter: Yeah, it was.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And I’m like, actually, maybe a lot of gay people also didn’t see it. I feel like they were emphasizing the the milestone of it rather than the fact that it’s a funny movie. And like, you know, it really does capture some specificities of urban, gay male life that aren’t in major studio releases. And it’s nice to see a big budget movie.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And it does pose interesting questions about queer history, which again, I didn’t fully expect. And there are all these, like you said, Jewel’s like great minor characters played by incredible comedians and actors. And I fully enjoyed it, even though, you know, the other thing is, like a lot of times when a gay movie gets promoted or a TV show or whatever, it’s like the LGBTQ community is represented by this film, which is not true. It’s like this very sort of narrow cultural niche that’s represented. I didn’t expect to be represented by it. I certainly didn’t feel represented like I’m pretty sure the word lesbian was used as a punch line, which is like one of Billy Eichner’s things like and my theater, the theater that I was in was almost all gay men, like half of whom knew each other. I think they just like a mass ticket buy or something who, you know, laughed at, like literally just the mention of the word lesbian. I’m like, okay, like, this movie isn’t about me, but I still really enjoyed it.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And to your point, Brian, about the structure of a rom com, I feel like the the fact that Bro’s and Fire Island both came out in the same year and in such close proximity to one another sort of negatively affected both of them because I’m like comparing the two and they’re two very different films, even though they’re both about mainly cis gay men.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And so they hit a lot of the same cis gay men like cultural notes, where it’s like the apps and the clubs and the group sex and then like some discourse about like pressures to be sort of like muscle bound and mask and like what happens when you’re not that the way they fit those stories into the rom com frame we’re so similar where it’s like, Oh, but we’re not monogamous and like, oh, at the end we don’t get married. We just like, agree to date each other for a little bit. And like, I can already see how the rom com form is limiting to queer storylines because. As they both did it in kind of the same way. Yeah.
Brian Lauter: You know, they try to trouble that. Like you just said it, not getting married, but they’re like, let’s date for three months, even though they’ve already said I love you, which is kind of an intense thing to say before you start dating. But also it ends with a discussion of having kids, which which is sort of the last note, which I just thought was so, so undermining to any any of Eichner’s or, you know, the marketing claims that this was going to be about how different we are. We end up in this really, really conventional place.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And to me, that’s even more intense than like, getting married.
Brian Lauter: Yeah.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. Like, oh, all of a sudden, this guy who thinks it’s too intense to have sex with only one at a time is like. But I’ve always wanted children.
Brian Lauter: Yeah, no. And I really do think that it’s it was it is the genre that is like forcing that and and maybe Eichner’s he’s he’s spoken in press for the movie about like growing up on on the traditional rom coms and just really thinking that that was kind of the height of like Hollywood creativity in certain ways, I think. And so he’s devoted to that. And so it makes sense that it would show up, you know, so, so strongly.
Brian Lauter: But I think it really does limit what you can say and and what kinds of queer stories, you know, as someone in a in a poly relationship and a three in a throuple like the movie Sinai is that the whole way through when you and I’m not like offended but it was like you could have imagined what if there was a rom com about a throuple that would actually be different and interesting and yeah, in fact, if you go back in the history of cinema the first time, but you know, anything that felt like it really pushed the boundaries was sort of kept in the realm of humor. And we were left in this very traditional place.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: I think that is representative of many gays. I just, I think that it’s like the the hyping of it, that it’s going to that it’s going to really show how different our relationships are. Like, there was no way it could live up to that. Mhm.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Exactly. And I hear people who are like, yeah, you know, why was this movie released in October? You know, it’s so, it’s like not going to do well against horror films also. Just like what good rom coms have there been at any time recently like the genre is? I’m not sure the genre makes sense anymore. Like and it seems really hard to pull that off because you go back and watch those rom coms. And part of what’s so uncomfortable about them in particular is not just their conventionality, but actually they’re just straight up creepiness. Like some of our cultural norms around heterosexuality have ostensibly shifted in terms of what is understood to be coercive and what is under, you know, what consent and what like it means for a man to to badger a woman and chase her and show up at her workplace or whatever, or like basically, like manipulate her. So it’s like one how like, is this genre even, like, workable anymore?
Jules Gill-Peterson: But to I think there’s this question about humor that I’ve just never quite been able to put my finger on. And it’s hardly exclusive to this film, but I was really interested in this. It’s like so like, I think we can all safely say like, like camp is very hard these days. Irony is not easy to pull off. Humor, generally speaking, is not like that. And that’s a huge shift for gay people because it’s like, Oh my God, you know, a lot of how we’ve related to mainstream culture historically has been through camp and irony.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And and I think a, you know, one place that we are culturally, you know, in general is we’re in a pretty snarky, cynical kind of bitchy place. And it’s like there’s so much about like, I like snark and I’m a really judgmental person, you know, when I’m not being recorded. But like, but, but there’s something about that, right? Where it’s like a lot of the humor for me feels like missed opportunity, where I’m like, Why is this being played for snark? Because like one, it’s true. There are a lot of weirdo people that are like this or that or like, it’s true. There are people who like, act this way. It’s true. Being gay is very different than it was 20 years ago. Like, I don’t know, because snark to me is about dismissing something out of hand, right? So it’s like by making fun of this, I’m pushing it off like we’re done with it.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Do you have an example? Like, can you remember an example from the film that did that?
Jules Gill-Peterson: I think all of the the sort of satire of of homo normativity, right? Like so like, you know, when like Carmen Diaz’s character, like, does the bottom dance with the kid or something, you know, like all of these moments And Billy Eichner is like it was, you know, gay sex was better when straight people were afraid of it. And like, those moments are real. Like something has changed. Gay people have been domesticated.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But then even on the flip side of the snark about the apps or the snark about couples or gay culture, I’m like, okay, but like snark means you’re actually not digging in. You’re even telling me why this is funny. You’re not even telling me why I should care. You’re telling me that it’s it’s sort of blasé or embarrassing that some people are this way. And I’m like, But that actually discounts everything that’s changed since the nineties when you couldn’t make a gay rom com.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Part of it to me is like when I’m trying to measure what it means for this film to exist today, I’m like, Why are we? I don’t know. There’s just something about the humor that feels like it makes it harder to go there. And that’s not I don’t think that’s again, do you not think that’s invented by brewers? But I think it’s a big problem. I see in general where I’m like, I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a conventional comedy that I thought was funny and like, weird comedies are having a renaissance and like, you know, I think there are a lot of queer and trans creators and people of color who are doing that work.
Jules Gill-Peterson: So that so it’s it’s not that it can’t be done, but I just I think Billy Eichner is a great vehicle to think about that obviously snark and part of like the work that he’s done since Billy on the Street has been about inventing some of this comedy stuff. So there’s something there. Obviously, he has a really important talent to bring back, but I just it just happens to me a lot lately where I’m like, okay, like I get the reference, but the citation doesn’t really feel funny. It feels mean, mean in an uncaring way. I don’t know. Does that does that make sense to you both?
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. And I think now I’m thinking back at like some of the things that got the most laughs in the theater I was in, and I think part of it was like just an excitement that someone made a joke about something that feels unites to queer people. And so it’s like, Oh, you, you named it or like you recognized it. It’s on the screen. And like, whether the joke was funny or not almost didn’t matter because people were just so excited.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. So maybe that is like a point in Billy Eichner’s camp where, like, the others didn’t feel like a big deal for a lot of people and even for me, like it was exciting to be in a theater and to see like even just a little bit more exploration into gay culture than you’d see in a film where like a gay was a minor character or something like that where. But I feel like it touched on so many things that I wanted more exploration of, Like the fact that Bobby walks in on Aaron’s shooting himself up with T Yeah, and it’s like, oh, the whole like, steroid thing. We don’t explore what that means for gay men. It’s just like, Oh, do you want to do it or not? It doesn’t really matter.
Brian Lauter: And to Jules’s point that they, they cast it off again with snark because Billy then tries to take the testosterone and there’s this extended kind of physical gag sequence almost where he’s like, you know, getting it’s not I don’t know if you call it you wouldn’t call it roid rage, but some kind of like and.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Right. I think what. CALLER Yeah.
Brian Lauter: I mean, it’s not it wasn’t steroids, but it was yeah. Anyway, he gets kind of like overstimulated and is screaming and knocking things down and it and so and we dismiss that whole issue with that joke rather than talk about like, you know, beyond beyond Aaron saying, well you really like my my muscles don’t use so like don’t like look askance at me doing that because this is how they exist. But yeah, it doesn’t dig any further into it than that. You’re right.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: But it did make me be like, wow, you are a lot of like gay men with amazing bodies or like, super muscly bodies. Are they all on t?
Brian Lauter: I think. I think it’s pretty common.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like I learned something.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: I just want to talk about sort of a realization I had about rom coms while watching this movie and, and watching Fire Island. So looking at two films that tried to bring non-monogamy into a rom com. Yeah, it made me realize that so much of the narrative tension in a classic rom com is based on conventions of monogamy. So like jealousy, cheating, one person’s desperate to get married and the other one’s afraid of it. Obviously these things can also happen in non-monogamous relationships, but not in the same way. And I was trying to imagine like tedious and complicated way. You might explain if like if there was cheating in a non-monogamous relationship, like, well, this person crossed a boundary and like, even non-monogamous relationships have boundaries.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Well, it just feels I’m like, I can’t imagine that being the center of a rom com in the same way they are in like these monogamous ones. And so I was it like deflates some of the tension. And I feel like rom coms really thrive on simplicity and a shared set of norms about what people want and expect out of relationship and what’s out of bounds. And if we’re trying to make a rom com in a culture in which there’s a different set of of shared norms that isn’t like a straight people’s norms, it’s it’s very hard to build up that same kind of investment.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: And I think you even see it in burrows where they’re like, they make a big deal about non-monogamy, but then it’s like, Oh, well, actually I don’t want I want to be monogamous, but then I actually don’t know how they end. Like what the final word on that was. I’m like, I sort of feel the need to walk that back. It wasn’t because you couldn’t think of a way for him for Bobby to get mad at Aaron without like seeing him kiss someone else. I don’t know.
Brian Lauter: That is the sort of third act like conflict of, you know, the rom com conflict in this movie is that Aaron asks to explore non-monogamy. I think they’ve been dating actually for about a year at this. Or something like that. I mean, it’s like, you know, maybe I would like to sleep with this person. The only way that it makes any sense at all is that as a narrative choice is that the person happens to be his, like, high school crush, which I do think most people would find a bit unnerving if not threatening, if not like out of bounds like that.
Brian Lauter: That worked. But if it hadn’t been if had just been like another guy, there would have been no tension. Like not not in New York. Gay life. Like, it’s just it’s just not the case. It’s like no one would really look askance of that. And I wonder in the writing process if there was some moment or there were like, how we have to make this this other person be somehow toxic because like, just the idea of sleeping with someone else is not going to do it. Like it’s not enough. In the culture that you’re talking, the subculture that you’re talking about. And yeah, it’s it is, it is brought up and then it’s quickly dismissed. You know, for a moment I was sort of excited. I was like, Well, this this will be a new thing to explore in the genre if we really dig in to what what non-monogamy looks like for for a couple. But no, it’s, it’s, it’s like swept away as quickly as it could be. And there, you know, you end up just with the two of them together again. And I think I think the understanding is that Bobby is not into open relationships. That was that was what I took away at the end.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. Before we go, I want to bring up one of the side plots of this story, which is the development of this queer history museum. And they’re wondering, you know, the museum board is kind of debating whether it’s appropriate to claim Abraham Lincoln as gay. There’s also, you know, Eleanor Roosevelt, who’s I think shows up in like a hall of bisexuals or something. One of Slate’s straight writers who I think listens to this podcast. Hi, Heather apparently didn’t know that Eleanor Roosevelt was widely considered queer and like, you know, all of the steamy letters to prove it. And she, you know, did a Q&A for Slate about it. But I was like, hum, maybe straight people will learn something about this. What do you guys think of the depiction of those sorts of debates about claiming our ancestors as queer?
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, I just I think for me it is the central problem that the film is trying to wrestle with, right? Which is like, Wait, why these stakes are so weird, right? It’s like whether or not Abraham Lincoln was gay seems like a question for straight people. Honestly, to me, I’m like, That’s not interesting. This idea that LGBTQ history, right? It’s like, Well, hold on, what are you even talking about? Because it’s not a uniform thing. If you want to talk about how all these people who have been considered straight and had tons of power historically were also having gay sex and like, cool, but like, I’m not really sure that that’s important other than just like reaffirming the ruling class and trying to like, dress up their image. And so I’m, you know, it’s like the idea of a of a separate LGBTQ history museum is not obvious to me. I mean, there are some.
Jules Gill-Peterson: So I also don’t know why the film is imagining this first thing happening is sort of bizarre, but I’m just like, that’s not, you know, like I don’t care about Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the idea of like, again, it’s like this, you know, it’s an old joke in academia, right? But there’s like a, you know, book that came out in 1990 that was like, you know, what does it even mean to do queer readings of the canon? You want me to go find a gay Shakespeare in a gay Plato? Like, what are you talking about? Literally, Western culture is all by white gay men or white men who have sex with other white men. Again, it’s like this weird idea of like, Well, are we going to be in a rom com? And it’s like, Yeah, are we going to become straight? Are gay people going to be part of the upper crust of America? Well, they already were. And look how fucked we are politically. So I don’t know. It’s just that landed really weird for me in 2022.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Again, not their fault. I’m sure they’ve been working on this film for a long time, but I was just like, Yeah, I don’t think like, you know, Marjorie Taylor GREENE is going to weep to go to the Eleanor Roosevelt exhibit and realize that she needs to stop trying to ruin gay and trans people’s lives. I just and I don’t think gay people are uplifted by this story. I think it’s actually kind of a weird mystery. I don’t know. It just but whatever. I’m a sensitive historian, so.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: We’ll take your opinion on that. And yeah, I think it’s like at the bottom line, it’s about the difference between like queerness as a sex act or queerness as like a socio political identity which has only existed like pretty recently and.
Brian Lauter: Queerness as like love story, right? I mean, that’s that’s clearly what Eichner thinks like that. I mean, and statements he made. And I think in just the creation of this movie, you get a sense that like love is what defines us for him and when. So we’re looking back at history. We’re looking for love. That was a racist or hidden or whatever, which you can do. But it’s it’s such a limited way, I think, to to approach that history. There’s some. Any other ways that people could be relating to each other. And certainly I don’t think that the tropes of the rom com can extend too far back at all. So for all kinds of reasons, it does leave you in an odd place if you’re if you really care about queer history. But if you are only looking for a romantic finale under fireworks, then I don’t think you’re going to find that many. But maybe we shouldn’t want to.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Wow, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you, Brian, for coming back to share it with us.
Brian Lauter: It was my pleasure. I missed you guys.
Jules Gill-Peterson: LGBT History Month may not always get as much attention as its chic older sister Pride Month, but take it from this nerd. History is extremely, unabashedly cool. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear me say that. But part of what makes LGBT history so fascinating actually isn’t just that the people, the stories and the artifacts we encounter can be kind of head spinning, challenging what we think we know about ourselves and also where our communities come from. It’s actually also that the research, the classification and the storytelling process is just never obvious, but like in the most delightful creative way.
Jules Gill-Peterson: So does LGBT history need its own institutions, its own finding AIDS and stand alone glory? Or are the oldest, most traditional institutions also queer history hotbeds that just haven’t been given their due? And how do we make sense of both of those possibilities? To help us answer some of these questions and to share some very amazing recommendations. We are joined by Meg Metcalf, a librarian, community historian and LGBTQ studies collections specialist at the Library of Congress. Meg, Welcome to Outward. We are so excited to talk with you and thank you for bringing our Queer Alcee Library of Congress vibes to the show this month.
Speaker 5: Thank you so much for having me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here to celebrate LGBTQ History Month with y’all.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yes, it couldn’t have a better reason to get together. And, you know, I think, like probably I’ve said this before, but like the work that I do in my day job as a historian would be, frankly, impossible without the expertise and wisdom of people like you. And so I was wondering, would you would you maybe start by telling us a little bit about, like, how did you get into this area of work? You know, what pulled you in in particular to LGBT history questions and what kind of work do you get up to at the Library of Congress now?
Speaker 5: Absolutely. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about my background in women’s and gender studies. It’s very much a research focused, interdisciplinary kind of program, and that’s where I first discovered periodicals like the Ladder from the Daughters of Miletus and the Mattachine Review. And having those moments where I asked myself, you know, why have I never heard of this before? You know, as a as a lesbian historian, how have I never heard of these groups? And that’s because this history is found in places, you know, other than textbooks, other than in those traditional sources we’ve come to value.
Speaker 5: So I kind of became a little bit obsessed with tracking down these hidden histories and finding the most creative formats that I could, especially periodicals and newspapers. So I got my degrees in women’s and gender studies and library science and ended up here at the library where I found an enormous print collection. We are actually the world’s largest library, and we are a working public library open to everyone. And it was actually in the stacks that I found a lot of resources that I had never heard of before. And so the love affair sort of started there and hasn’t ended. And yeah.
Jules Gill-Peterson: As all good affairs are, they go on and on and reinvent themselves.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Exactly.
Jules Gill-Peterson: I mean, I love that image of just like being in the stacks. I mean, I’m totally a librarian. If it’s an artist, like, you know, my, my biases are just going to be raging like me. But like, there is that kind of feeling of like, if you’re in a library and a library is a space that you sort of like know how to navigate. Already I’m kind of having these moments of like, Oh, hold on. Well, what do you do in here? Who are you? Oh, wow. Right. And like, I guess, you know, that leads me to a version of something that’s a little more elegant, archaic, but, like, you know, what does it mean to you to think about the Library of Congress? Right? Like you said, world’s largest library, an institution that opened like, you know, at the very beginning of the 19th century. What does it mean to you to think about. Yeah, a place like the Library of Congress as a repository of queer history? Like how do you sort of wrap your head around that or how would you describe that for us?
Speaker 5: It’s kind of incredible because I quickly learned I’m a reference librarian and I quickly learned that people come to the Library of Congress to see themself in history, whether that’s American history or any other type of history, because we collect globally, we collect in over 460 languages. And so for me, it was getting to experience that joy with people realizing that, yes, this library has something for you. And queer history is part of history. And how do you go about finding those resources and elevating them? And so we’ve done a lot of work in terms of updating collections, policy statements and doing outreach through blogs. And events. And so it’s really basically digging it out and trying to create resources so that other people can find these things. So my day to day looks different every day, but it’s definitely never boring.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Do you know how long the Library of Congress has had specific deliberate collections and resources for LGBT history?
Speaker 5: So the collections policy statements began with me and the Carla Hayden administration. However, we have had LGBTQ materials forever. In fact, some of the earliest materials we have are probably in the Thomas Jefferson papers, which he would not expect. He was not an ally necessarily in the South to look up his feelings. That’s why that.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Is an ally to so many other communities.
Speaker 5: But what he was was, you know, he had court records and legal records from colonial North America. So we have, you know, the legal proceedings of Thomasin Hall, who was an intersex indentured servant in colonial America. And they did not know what to do with Thomas in Hall. It was okay dressed as a man. Okay, dress as a woman. Okay. Dresses both. And I think it really goes to show just the just the depth and breadth of the collection really does a great job of showing how gender and sexuality has changed so much over time, even here in a young country, you know, like America.
Jules Gill-Peterson: This turn to deliberate curation and programming and kind of taking the time to frame things out, which is really seems very continuous with the mission of the Library of Congress, which is that it’s supposed to be sort of like the ultimate public library, right. Like, you know, that that everyone, you know, who walks through those doors or maybe now goes online as well, might be able to connect themselves to the collections in some ways, like we are our own finding AIDS. And so even if an LGBTQ rubric for that is relatively recent, you know, one, it seems very much in keeping with the purpose of the institution.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But it’s so interesting to then realize that like, yeah, because the whole collection this whole time has been waiting in complicated ways. I mean, Jefferson is such a great example of that, right? I really sort of interested in that kind of connection because I think sometimes, you know, libraries and archives and museums can be intimidating too, to people, not just because they’re vast and involve very elaborate filing systems and, you know, used to have those gorgeous card catalogs. But like, it’s a lot to navigate.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Right. And one question I’m just sort of interested in in general is like, you know, if people are sitting here reflecting during this month, they’re just kind of curious about like how they fit into bigger historical narratives are like, what’s my local queer history? What’s your advice on kind of how to get started, if that involves something like trying to do research yourself because, you know, like we live in this era and I think we’ve been lucky on this show to have a lot of authors on recently who have, you know, done that kind of painstaking research and written whole books. And it’s wonderful. But I always encourage people like, go out and do it yourself. And one reason is that, like there’s so much research to be done, there’s so much to explore. Those of us who do it for a living will never even scratch the surface. But I just think, you know, it can feel like that’s so cool. But if everything is out there, what do I do? How do I start? What’s what’s your sort of practical advice for people who might be interested, but, you know, haven’t used that or don’t remember using the Library of Congress any time recently?
Speaker 5: Yes, libraries are very intimidating, especially the world’s largest. And that’s something we’ve had to work a lot to combat. My first piece of advice would be, I’m so sorry, but nothing is ever going to be totally online. And if you really want to do research, you’re going to have to use physical materials. I’m so sorry, but a lot of this material does not exist anywhere besides this one copy or this microfilm surrogate of this item.
Speaker 5: Although that sounds very scary, there are people who are trained to help you and just so excited to help you like me. So for the Library of Congress, for example, we have librarians, historians, curators in every single reading room who can help you navigate these collections because it would be impossible to navigate on your own. And even as a librarian myself, I rely so much on my colleagues because we not only are researchers in our own right, but we help researchers every single day. And so we’ve gotten to look at these collections over years and for some of my colleagues decades. So nobody knows the collections better than the librarians and archivists who work with them.
Speaker 5: So most libraries, luckily also have librarians and archivists who can help you navigate these collections. And most of us have a virtual service of some kind that you can take advantage of. That is. Totally free. So, for example, here at the library, anyone can get a hold of me by writing to dot LLC, dot gov. And that’s our free Ask librarian service.
Speaker 5: And I am thrilled when I get LGBTQ history questions. And I definitely go totally overboard with my responses sometimes because when I first got here, the visibility wasn’t exactly there, and so I didn’t get a lot of those questions. And over the years I’ve seen there there’s become more and more visibility and awareness, and I think a lot of that had to do with Stonewall 50, kind of creating more awareness as well. But also just all the outreach we’ve been doing in these last few years. So I would say talk to the librarians and be prepared to look at physical materials because that is where most history lives for, you know, marginalized and oppressed peoples.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: That said, I do want to mention that y’all have a ton of stuff online. Oh, just kind of poking around some of your, you know, digital collections that you can access through the Internet. And, you know, you mentioned some of these periodicals. I was reading one of the issues of Transvestite magazine, which was I think like from the mid-twentieth century and publications like these that are published by and for LGBTQ people at a time when there wasn’t the Internet are just so fascinating to me because so many of them are full of like not only like poems and letters to the editor that give like a really, really diverse depiction of what people are thinking about and asking themselves at the time.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: But it also gives off this sense of a community talking to itself, which is so hard to find in history when you don’t always have access to like letters or like internal notes from meetings or things like that. And it just rocketed me back to the moment that these people were writing in and sharing information with each other across states and across generations.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Like, okay, right into this magazine, if you’ve heard of any court cases about like, if like gender nonconforming people can dress as they please, like, how is this playing out in your state? It just strikes me as so resourceful and useful for us, like a generation or two later. Are there any specific items in the collection that have sort of struck you as that is like a portal into the past in a particularly vivid way?
Speaker 5: So I came across something called Checklist 1960, and that was put out by Barbara Greer, who was writing under Jeane Damen and worked with the Daughters of Miletus Publishing. Now, this was a self-published index that I have no idea how it made it to the Library of Congress, but there were resources on there that I had never heard of that would not have been collected at any other libraries at the time. So it’s I’m constantly finding things that because they came in through copyright and we just happened to keep it. No other library really has this random mimeographed first edition and it’s really a wayfinding resource.
Speaker 5: It’s saying, Look, this is where I can’t imagine, you know, being a lesbian in like 1960 and finding that and and seeing. I’m not alone here. Because how else would you have known that? I get goosebumps when I think about it. It’s probably one of the favorite my favorite things that I’ve ever found here. We do have documentary footage from the first Gay Pride March, Christopher Street Liberation Day, and that is on our website on Alaska Gov. Search Gay and proud. And that comes right up and see if you can find Sylvia Rivera dancing in the streets.
Speaker 5: And similarly, I think for earlier history, my favorite thing of all time is historic newspapers, because that’s something that you can find stories going all the way back to the 19th century and earlier, especially like historically black newspapers, like the Afro American and the Evening Star. You know, you can find evidence of drag balls in D.C. in like the 19th century that the first known drag queen, William Dorsey, Swan Lake. Here’s a whole article about how they got raided and how they resisted arrest and, you know, their beautiful evening gown that was absolutely torn to shreds. And it’s these kinds of things that illustrate that LGBTQ history and activism and uprisings. They happened not just decades before Stonewall, but centuries. And so you kind of have to navigate between the different formats to get that sense of how vast our histories really are.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And mostly research the 20th century. But I’ve been dipping my toe into the 19th century, and even for me, I keep being like, Oh, wow, like this. You know, there’s a lot of things that like that whole scenario of putting on a drag ball and getting raided by the police, like how interesting that that’s going on for over a century in a row. Right? And it’s like there’s something just a little startling about that from the perspective of the present, looking back. Right. And I love that about about encountering primary documents like coming into direct contact with the past. You know, it can sometimes just emotionally be even more enriching and a little more, Jocelyn, than maybe reading, you know, someone’s summary of their work or whatever. And so I always think it’s very exciting to and also for that reason, to come into contact with the physical material.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Could you talk a little bit about maybe some of the challenges, like if we wanted to go into those historical newspapers? I know this is something I talk with my students about all the time, but here we are in 2022 and we have Twitter to scream at each other about language all day long. So aren’t we so lucky? But of course, you know, the language and terminology that people used a long time ago is not just different like that. I think we all kind of take for granted, of course.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Right. But but like, if someone was interested in learning more about Yeah, say, you know, the black communities falls in the late 19th century, like how would you I mean, of course some of the some of the work that you’ve done is actually putting together guides and help. And of course, always, always, yes. Always ask a librarian for help first. But if someone is sitting down right with that, that historical newspaper’s collection is just sort of generally interested, like how how do you navigate that? Like, how do you figure out sort of what search terms to use or, you know, any any tips on how to how to bridge that gap between ourselves and the past?
Speaker 5: You know, you need to use historical vernacular and think about how are people talking about this and at what time and why would they be talking about it. So a lot of that has to do with when people are coming into interaction with law enforcement or the medical establishment or some sort of institution. So I keep a list of terms that I have found have worked for me. And it comes, you know, things like femme mimics or, you know, female husband and things like that. And these terms can generate a lot more results than, you know, if you search lesbian, you’re not going to get much before 1960.
Speaker 5: It also helps if you have a general sense of the date that you’re looking at. You can just kind of go in and browse sort of by general dates. But I think the most helpful thing is to figure out, you know, how were people talking about this during that time period and coming up with a list of of how to do that and definitely use the advanced search option on Chronicling America, which the address is Chronicling America, LLC. Jehovah Chronicling America is a digitized collection of historic newspapers. It includes millions of pages from the 1800s all the way into the 20th century, and it is an absolute treasure for LGBTQ history. Please go to advanced Search and search is a phrase. That’s my number one recommendation for you. And I will say that we have a great team here that works on chronicling America that goes in and can fix things when you know you’re searching and things aren’t coming up.
Speaker 5: So, for example, I was looking at the Zuni to Spirit Leader AWA and I said, you know, I’m I’m typing this. Way. It’s spelled all these different ways. It’s not coming up. And before you know it, the next time I went to search, it came up. So you can also write to the ask librarian if you’re finding something. And it didn’t come up in a way that you expected. So it’s kind of both researchers and are like metadata specialists are sort of like working together to create more visibility and more find ability for these resources.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Who are some of the other figures of history that you’ve encountered that have particularly captured you?
Speaker 5: Well, I love the story of Frances Thompson, who was born enslaved and was actually the first trans woman to ever testify before Congress. They testified about their assault during the Memphis riots. And you can find that not only in chronicling America, but in congressional testimony where here is this black trans woman testifying as a woman in the Congressional Record under their chosen name. And it’s moments like that that you really have to pinch yourself. And I just want to shout it from the rooftops. You know, I get so excited when I find these things.
Speaker 5: And, of course, Princess Wawa has been one of my favorites because finding so many photographs in chronicling America, which you might not expect to find these photographs of early, you know, trans and gender nonconforming folks. But newspapers are probably one of the earliest places to find that information, which I think is kind of amazing that we have. I actually have a scene that I made of compiled I know the listeners can’t see, but these are images compiled just from chronicling America. Wow.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: That’s yeah.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Well, I will always defend the nerdy business of doing historical research. And like, you know, nothing makes me more excited than dusty old papers and my, my trusty archival notes spreadsheet. But, you know, that’s not the only way people could come about it.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And I’m so glad you mentioned why is someone that I teach about a lot and you know, for for folks who, you know, might be hearing this name for the first time, why is a, you know, someone who, you know, maybe would be identified as two spirit today from the Zuni Nation who in the second half of the 19th century, you know, played a fairly important cultural and political role in the Zuni Pueblo in the Southwest.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But but has this amazing story that I think, again, really gets to the heart of what’s interesting and almost like the riddle of something like LGBT History Month because I’m forgetting the exact dates. But, you know, in the second half of the 19th century, you know, she basically goes to Washington, D.C., you know, under difficult circumstances, sort of invited by these elite white people and sort of social scientists and anthropologists who had been, you know, doing this kind of very disturbing form of anthropological kind of research in the Southwest, sort of on this presumption that indigenous nations are are on their way out and are dying out. And so the role of, you know, of American collectors and scientists and museums is almost like to inventory a dying culture. Just absolutely absurd, since the United States is directly bringing about the political oppression of many indigenous groups.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But but so when it comes to D.C. on this sort of taking on that difficult role of like I’ve been invited, but clearly, you know, takes it on as in like, well, I’m going to go visit this weird the capital of this weird nation that keeps antagonizing my people. Right. And sees it on on a different kind of maybe footing than than white observers. But, you know, it seems like the story goes everyone’s dazzled because no one realizes, you know, that she is to spirit. No one realizes, you know, everyone just takes her to be a woman. They talk about her as a princess, but no one realizes that, you know, she’s sort of, quote unquote, in a western in a Western framework, you know, kind of crossing a gendered boundary there.
Jules Gill-Peterson: I don’t know. There are so many weird stories and I don’t even know if any of them are true because, you know, people spin weird tales, but like, there’s this scene I’m always stuck on of, I think I don’t know if she’d gone to the opera or something, but is like in the bathroom, in the women’s restroom and is watching a rich white American woman like, I don’t know, fiddle with her wig and powder her face and and she’s like, Oh, I see. Like white women are totally fake. They’re just like a series of ornaments that are pieced together. Oh, how interesting. That must be how gender works of this culture. And it’s just this amazing moment of like role reversal.
Jules Gill-Peterson: But the idea, right, that we think of like, oh, DC in the halls of power. So, you know, always so exclusionary and there couldn’t have ever been a two spirit or indigenous presence there. There could never have been trans history going on at an opera hall in 19th century DC. But in fact, no, it’s like she was there, but she was only seen through one disparaging light. And in fact, everything that she might have been up to or might have thought is really hard to reconstruct anyways. I mean, I don’t want to start going on a long talk about one of my favorite historical figures, but but, you know, I’m so delighted that like, you know, you go to this archive and she was herself, you know, really invested in different artistic traditions, you know, like and produced art herself. And so to think about like remixing that and making it seem like kind of engaging.
Jules Gill-Peterson: With it on an aesthetic level too, because the historical record might not tell us things like What was she really thinking, you know? Like, how did she perceive being objectified and how did she deal with the racism and how did she deal with, you know, didn’t she meet like the president’s wife and like, you know, anyway, I’ve got to stop talking like, oh.
Speaker 5: She meant the president, she secretary of state. I believe they gave her just incredible gifts and everybody was just absolutely fawning. So one of my absolute favorite stories definitely read those newspaper articles because they’re adorable. They’re just I can’t the way they describe the outfits and just like the dazzle of Wawa is is pretty special and also problematic. But definitely something to read for sure.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Yeah. The fact that we can find LGBTQ people in like every section of the library and at every point in history made me kind of think about, you know, what is the value of collecting these things and presenting them as, you know, this is LGBTQ history, and how do you decide what goes into that category? You know, these are kind of abstract questions, but when it comes to a library, they’re also very tangible and important. How do you sort of grapple with the question of what what an LGBTQ collection should be and what should be in it, and how your specific label at all?
Speaker 5: I don’t get to have control over labeling everything. I mostly work with the general and international collections, but I will say when I wrote the collections policy statements which anyone can read online, that process took a couple of years and basically it’s a lot of stakeholders here talking about where are the holes in these collections and what do we need to be collecting, because we do amass a lot of materials sort of automatically, you know, through copyright, we get about 10 to 15000 items every day. So we’re getting the mainstream stuff right. So it’s important that we have these policy documents and subject experts here so that we can talk about what hasn’t been collected, what are we missing.
Speaker 5: So we have definitely specific goals in terms of what we would like to collect more of. I think a lot of institutions have had a large focus on white SISSAY, you know, affluent history. That’s sort of the history that we’ve had access to for a really long time. And so now it’s about, well, how do we collect histories that are more difficult to collect? And that involves, again, looking at different formats and the type of care that these different formats require, because it’s definitely really tricky working backwards and saying like, for example, Jane Addams. Like that collection is not, you know, labeled necessarily as a lesbian collection. Charlotte Cushman, Selita Solano. These collections are from people who were alive before those terms were used. So the ethics on that are very much evolving, and I expect that we will see more change on that in our lifetimes.
Speaker 5: But that’s going to be very slow to change, I think, because we are not the only people who are invested in the history of these individuals. And so it’s it’s definitely it’s tricky. I think, you know, these days people come in and these collections are labeled in such a way and it’s like a no brainer. But these collections are pretty new to mainstream libraries or, or the fact, if not new, they’re new at being advertised as such. So it’s definitely a slow process where we have to be very careful because you definitely don’t want to offend anybody.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: So how do you so when you go about sort of proactively seeking to collect, you know, certain materials from certain groups, how do you identify like do you have any experience with actually reaching out to, you know, the archivist at some other organization and saying, hey, we want this stuff in the Library of Congress?
Speaker 5: Well, so we can’t really take materials from other libraries. It’s usually I wish I wish the one archives would just dump their whole collection right here. It would be great. Kinsey, we would like to send everything here. Awesome. But for me, I’m just a huge nerd. And so also, you know, my background in library science, I have like a million alerts set up. I have certain shops. I’m always looking at certain search terms that every day I’m going through and I’m looking for these materials because they’re a lot of these materials. You know, less than a thousand were published, less than 200 were published. And I have had success in finding things that were limited. Edition It just can often take several years. And I think part of it also is the fact that we are much more, you know, celebratory now about our LGBTQ collections. People actually come to us and that makes it a lot easier as well.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Do you have like a Holy Grail, like the thing that you just would love to acquire?
Jules Gill-Peterson: Yeah, Put it out in the ether. We’ll get it for you guys.
Speaker 5: Yes. Question There are collections I’m jealous of at other libraries, but I’m also always like, wishing I had full runs of certain periodicals I would love to have more materials about from like Queer Nation and sort of like Lesbian Avengers and that sort of thing. I did just buy. I was so excited. I got volume on issue one of the Furies, which was the DC Lesbian Collective, and I had been looking for that for years and I got it at a local bookstore.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Oh, my gosh, You were just browsing. Are you knew that it was there?
Speaker 5: Actually, the store owners emailed me because they said, I know you’ve been looking for this and we will hold on to it. And thankfully they did. And so now we have that and the newspaper and current periodical Reading Room.
Jules Gill-Peterson: See, clearly, I think listeners can tell. Librarians and archivists actually run the whole world. So we we’re we’re grateful for it and the work that you’re doing and a part of Meg is just really inspiring and very exciting. And I just want to I want to lay down that gauntlet to our listeners. Like, you know, I think we’ve heard a lot of really interesting names and lots of different collections, but I want to encourage everyone, like just take a little time, go browse the website, think about what you might be interested and get involved. Because one way or another, by doing research, by thinking of materials you might want to make sure are preserved for the future. Just being a part of how we make use of these living collections like the Library of Congress will be.
Jules Gill-Peterson: We’ll be setting the agenda for future queer History months, which I think is a pretty cool thing to do. But I mean, you know, I would keep you here all day going item by item through the entire Library of Congress collection being told that we don’t have dang so for that. Yeah so we’ll we’ll we’ll get back to it but but make sure we thank you so much for for sharing your expertise with us and also for for validating that I’m not the only person in the world that has this particular enthusiastic relationship to all dusty materials.
Speaker 5: Oh, it’s been so wonderful to be in conversation. I mean, there’s only so many people you can nerd out about this stuff with. So this has absolutely made my day. And to anyone listening, please come see me at the library. Anybody can come see me. You don’t even have to be a citizen. Just bring a photo ID and let me show you the library. And you know, if you can’t come by in person, you know, write to me online. I would love to help you.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Well, that’s about it for this candy corn filled month. But before we go, we do have your monthly updates to the gay agenda.
Jules Gill-Peterson: So, Christina, what do you got for us?
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Well, as I was watching Bro’s, I was trying to think of why one of the minor characters looked so familiar. So in not. Abby’s friend group. There’s a trans masculine couple. One person is played by a redhead, the wonderful Becca Blackwell, who I’ve seen in a bunch of things and who’s great. And the other one I knew I recognized him but couldn’t remember from where. Turns out it’s Delo who’s an actor and comedian who I’d actually heard a podcast about a few months ago. And, you know, after listening to that podcast, I, of course, looked him up to be like, Well, what does this guy look like? And he looks great. And that’s besides the point. I’m recommending this very sweet and funny podcast episode from NPR’s Code Switch.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: The episode is called Spilling the Tea T, as in Testosterone, and the story is mostly narrated by Code Switch producer Kumari Devarajan, who was first introduced to Dildo at one of his shows in L.A. in 2019. And the show really spoke to Kumari because, as she says, Delo is her demographic doppelganger because they’re both queer and gender non-conforming. They’re both Sri Lankan, which there are fewer than 50,000 Sri Lankans in the U.S. So already kind of rare and they’re both Tamil, which is the ethnic minority in Sri Lanka, and they’re both queer and gender non-conforming.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: So Kumari was basically like, what are the odds that, you know, I get to meet this person who shares so much of my culture and worldview? And so the episode sort of goes through its about Delos show. There are some clips from it which are very thoughtful and also really funny, but it’s also about the experience of Kumari watching this show, thinking like her life experience is so singular and shared by so few people, and then seeing that reflected back at her and being kind of wowed by like the recognition she felt, the feelings, and also what it means to meet somebody who shares so many facets of your own identity and see that on a stage and also see people seeing that on stage. So it’s a really lovely podcast and again, it’s really funny. It’s NPR’s Code Switch podcast and the episode is called Spilling the Tea.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Jules, what do you have for us?
Jules Gill-Peterson: So I have a book recommendation. I mean, I’m so biased because it’s one of my favorite people in the entire world. But this is a book that’s just come out called by Cecilia Gentili, who a lot of folks might know is kind of a legendary trans woman activist from the New York City era, hilarious comedian and cultural producer who’s written a sort of reinvention of the memoir genre that’s called fantasy letters to everyone in my hometown who isn’t my rapist. So, you know, definitely challenging, definitely challenging, really, you know, might not be for everyone. But it’s it’s absolutely I think maybe like one of the best books, like, ever, ever, ever written.
Jules Gill-Peterson: So Gentili, you know, for folks who don’t know, is originally from Argentina and grew up, you know, there in the 1970s and, you know, as a young queer and trans woman, eventually made it to the United States trying to, you know, figure out how to survive, lived undocumented for a long time, kind of, you know, hustling and doing sex work and surviving the carceral system and the immigration system after which she was able to win an asylum case and has just gone on to do really important work in New York at Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And, you know, a bunch of trans equity stuff. She’s been on Pose. You’ve probably seen her around. She’s just so funny. And she carries this kind of particular sense of speaking of humor, this kind of humor that I associate with a lot of trans women and travesties from from Latin America, from the Southern Cone that just like have a way of talking about trauma and difficult or just horrifying experiences. Unlike I it’s just unlike anything you’ve ever encountered before.
Jules Gill-Peterson: So the whole book is sort of her writing a series of letters to people from this hometown where a bunch of horrific things happen to her and there’s just nothing like it. I don’t know. I really I really think it sounds heavy, but she has this levity and wit that is just so unique. And I really I really encourage folks who have that, you know, had the capacity to go there to just give this a read, because I think I think you’ll you’ll find, as I have myself, that it kind of just like, you know, when someone is just doing something so new and so kind of over your own head, I’m like, wow, I am not equipped to digest this. And I’m really fascinated by that. It’s just so I don’t know.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And so I just and I think Cecilia is just like the greatest person ever. And so, you know, you won’t be mad to have her in your life. And it’s a it’s a great book out from a new small press from by trans women. So highly encourage you to check out FLOTUS by Cecilia Gentili, which is available from little press and wherever you.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Get your books. What a wonderful recommendation, Jules. Higher praise has never been given one of the best books that’s ever been written.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And I do not say that lightly.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: Can’t wait to check this out. Yeah, I’m sure you don’t. Thank you, listeners, for joining us this month. That’s the end of our show. Please send us your feedback, as always and topic ideas, things you want us to chit chat about at outward podcast at Slate.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter at Slate outward. Our producer is June Thomas. The star of our wildest romcom Dreams. And if you like outward, please subscribe to us in your podcast app. Tell your friends and fam about it and rate and review the show so other people can find it. We’ll be back in your feeds November 16th, right before my birthday. My jewels. It was so great to have this little tete a tete this one any time.
Jules Gill-Peterson: And I just want a fade by breath to all the brows.
Speaker 4: To.
Cristina Cauterucci, Christina Cauterucci: See Ambra stay out there.
Jules Gill-Peterson: Thinking.